On the cusp of 2014, time to take a look back at another year of double-digit wins for New England, another first-round bye, and another year as AFC East Champs. Considering all that happened in 2013, 12-4’s not too shabby.
To review the fourth quarter of the regular season, the Patriots had a near-impossible 27-26 comeback win vs. Cleveland (including their first recovered on-sides kick since the Clinton administration), a disappointing (and, in retrospect, hard-to-understand) 24-20 loss down at Miami, a thorough 41-7 dismantling of the Super Bowl champs in Baltimore, and a wet-dog-ugly 34-20 win vs. Buffalo in the season-ender to secure their first-round bye.
Here are a few of the things we’re thinking of during a much-deserved – and much-needed – week off.
Was It Something They Eight? A perfect 8-0 at Gillette this year certainly helped things along. Looking at their losses this season (all away, all close, at least two that generated conversations about officiating), the Pats could really use that home field advantage on January 11.
The Family Jules: And to think receiver Julian Edelman could have been lured away from his Foxboro home as a free agent. His 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns eclipsed his entire previous production in the NFL (69 catches, 714 yards, four TDs in four seasons). Add his 12.5-yard average on punt returns, and you’re looking at someone who primed himself for a significant raise in 2014.
Note to Coach Belichick: We’re not going to tell you how to do your job, but do your job. Bring back Edelman and give Tom Brady a modicum of comfort with his receivers next year. Just something to think about.
Gronk-OW-ski: Good Heavens. With all the injured players this year (including tight end/red zone target/walking fiesta Rob Gronkowski), Sunday’s game did nothing to make fans think New England was getting a reprieve. Patriots players crumpled like piñatas in a rainstorm, including Aaron Dobson, Logan Mankins, Kyle Arrington, Sealver Siliga and Brandon Spikes. Of those mentioned, Dobson and Spikes remained out. Yet another reason the bye comes in handy.
Aaron On The Side Of Caution: Looks like Dobson’s foot issue continues to plague him. He made one strong catch on a 6-yard slant for an early first down but then came up lame on a long throw by Brady. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss mentioned in his Twitter account that it might be time for a call to Austin Collie, but here’s hoping Dobson’s rest does the rookie some good. He had 37 receptions this season, but his injury limited him to only two catches in the past six games.
And He Didn’t Cost An Arm And A LeGarrette: What a way to wrap up the season for LeGarrette Blount. His 24 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns helped the Pats outpace the scrappy Bills, as Blount’s late 35-yard scoring run accomplished much more than running out the clock. He also did more with returns than a hard-to-please aunt post-Christmas, taking back two kicks for 83 and 62 yards to set up two fourth-quarter scores.
Remember when Jeff Demps was going to impact New England’s return game? Well, he kind of did, in a roundabout, trade-y sorta way.
Kline Every Mountain: Kudos to undrafted rookie Josh Kline, who stepped into the left guard spot last week (moving Mankins out to tackle in place of Nate Solder) and helped the visiting Pats take down the Ravens. With New England’s O-line intact at the beginning of the year, Kline hardly registered as a potential contributor, moving on and off the practice squad. As tough as it was to watch Mankins eggshell-walk to the sideline, New England fans could have confidence in Kline as a short-term substitute.
Patriots Fun Fact: Former New England guard Stephen Neal wrestled in college; Kline wrestled in high school. At Mason High in Ohio, Kline won the state championship as a senior with a 45-1 record.
Rookie Don’t Lose That Number: Speaking of Kline, we hearken back to our piece on New England’s undrafted free agents this year. Quite a haul, including Kline, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (32 catches, 466 yards, four TDs), punter Ryan Allen (45.8 average), and defensive tackle Joe Vellano (54 tackles, two sacks). Counting undrafted defensive tackle Chris Jones (54 tackles, six sacks) added in September, you’re looking at a lot of productive post-draft phone calls.
Sealver Lineman’s Playbook: Speaking of young free agent pickups, kudos to all involved with the Siliga signing. The Pats brought in the 325-pounder to help stop opponents from running wilder than a pack of rabid dingoes, and Siliga – in his second year out of Utah – has made a difference since coming to Foxboro just over a month ago. Vs. the Bills, he had nine tackles, a forced fumble and a sack, his third sack in three games.
First, Do No Harmon: With safety Devin McCourty out, looks like rookie Duron Harmon can do some solid work in the defensive backfield. Harmon had four tackles against the Bills, who converted only four of 13 third-down attempts (31 percent). While he lacks the experience and vision of McCourty, Harmon has done a better overall job tackling than veteran Steve Gregory.
I mean, right? Gregory seems to miss more takedowns than a blind guy at a UFC match. Tighten that up!
Genius Of Love: Members of the Tom Brady Fan Club (aka Tom Tom Club) rejoice in this season, for it should be hailed as one of Brady’s best. Instead of focusing on those players he lacks, let’s pay attention to those he has: Edelman, who never caught more than 37 passes in one season, had 105. Danny Amendola caught 54 passes in 12 games. Shane Vereen nabbed 47 balls after missing half the season with a wrist injury. Rookies Dobson (37), Thompkins (32) and Josh Boyce (9) learned the system. Collie came in to make six catches along the way. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (said like it’s spelled) had 12 catches, Matthew Mulligan had two, James Develin four. Running back Brandon Bolden got 21 grabs.
No offense to anyone (no pun intended … mostly), but who the heck are these guys? It makes you consider whether Randy Moss has a point when he says he could come back to the NFL and put up “15 or 16 TDs.” With a certain QB throwing to him, he could have a shot.
Bye Now, Play Later: Take the week, relax, write a few thank-you cards, spend a few gift certificates. The Pats are back where they belong, where they have been for the past five years: in the playoffs. See you in a couple of weeks.
Chris Warner can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @cwarn89